I’m writing having just watched the film of Les Miserables, a story inspired by the struggle for freedom from oppression in 19th century France; a story inspired by the Christian faith in the transforming power of unconditional love. Very near the beginning of the story the embittered ex convict Valjean is given shelter by the Bishop of Digne and the starving man given food – the first act of kindness, generosity and hope that is to change Valjean and set him on an extraordinary journey of love and courage.
When Jesus took the bread at the last meal he shared with his friends and told them to remember him every time they broke bread together, it wasn’t ordinary bread that he broke. The bread was made without yeast. It was the ‘bread of the poor’, bread made with the barest essentials of flour and water. It was also the ‘bread of affliction’, the bread made in such a hurry as Jesus’ ancestors fled from slavery in Egypt reminding his people of a life lived in cruelty and abuse from which God enabled them to escape. It was this bread that Jesus said was to be his body for all who followed him – taken, given thanks for, broken and shared as a reminder that there is no better thing than for human beings to love and serve the good of others even at the cost of their own lives. Jesus identified above all with the poor and the afflicted, all those in need.
Sharing the bread of communion reminds Christians that ‘though we are many we are one body because we all share in the one bread.’ Jesus speaks to all people whether we believe he is the Son of God or not. Though we are many we are one body because we share the same humanity. Jesus teaches us that we have a responsibility for each other. I believe his Spirit is behind and within every act of self giving love. I believe his Spirit inspired the Declaration of Human Rights and whether they recognise it or not, his Spirit inspires all who seek to work for these rights for all. And for many who serve the poor and the afflicted it is at a great cost to their own lives. These are true followers of Jesus.
The bread that Jesus shared at his Last Supper was also the bread of ‘radical newness’ (in the words of Catholic theology). It was a symbol of hope for a better life, a renewed life, a life lived in love, peace, justice and joy.
This month Christians celebrate Easter from the Last Supper, through suffering and death to the victory over death on Easter Sunday – death of all kinds, physical and metaphorical, the death of hate and despair, of broken relationships and wrong doing. The deep truths held in this story have a resonance for all people of all creeds and none. They have power to stir in the human heart a longing for good not just for humanity but for the world we live in.
Sometimes we get stuck at the symbols and the rituals and fail to see beyond them. My prayer for us all at this time is that we would see beyond the story to all that it points to; that we would see in Jesus the truth he pointed to. When we eat bread, might we remember the poor and the afflicted, those who won’t be nourished today or tomorrow, and commit our lives to bringing life to those in need.